Panic hits Libya's Bin Jawad

AFP , Tuesday 29 Mar 2011

Rebels await air strikes to march ahead but say "NATO is not good"

A Libyan rebel is wrapped in the rebel flag as he jubilates on the front line outside of Bin Jawaad, 150 km east of Sirte, central Libya, Monday, 28 March 2011. (AP)

Ali Zeiki screws back one of the four barrels of the machine gun mounted on his pick-up truck when the whistle of an incoming shell prompts him to drop his weapon.

The shell crashes into the sand close by, between the road and the beach, and within minutes a traffic jam forms on the ribbon of asphalt cutting across the desert.

The explosion sounds the retreat as hundreds of Libyans take flight in the face of artillery fire from the advancing forces loyal to Libyan leader to Muammar Gaddafi.

From the top of armed pick-up trucks, in vans and civilian cars, insurgents scream and curse as they chaotically flee westwards. They slow down only miles later, once the sound of gunfire fades.

Earlier in the morning, Ali, 43, who like many other of the fighters left the rebel stronghold of Benghazi to take part in what they hoped would be a triumphant march into Sirte, Gaddafi's hometown, admitted it was not going to be so easy.

"We stopped a little after Nofilia," he said, referring to a town 10 kilometres (six miles) away and 100 kilometres (60 miles) from Sirte. "Gaddafi's forces are shooting at us with guns and mortars. It's too much force. Our weapons are not enough to take that on."

Nearby, two rebels pop fresh ammunition into a machine gun, cleaning, then greasing the weapon.

The rebels are waiting for air strikes to clear the road to Tripoli but no air-ground missile has struck the Libyan army ahead of them in more than 24 hours.

Without a saving grace from the sky, the rebels, who increasingly resemble armed protesters rather than a fighting force, will be hard-pressed to counter the heavily-armed loyalist forces in their path.

Hit by a deadly ambush Monday afternoon as they reached the village of Hawara, only 80 kilometres from Sirte, rebel forces were stopped in their tracks.
Subsequent attemps to press forward, without heavy weapons, proved futile.

Ramadan Berki, a clothes vendor in Benghazi, had piled into his Mercedes with his brother, a friend, two machine pistols, foam mattresses, boxes of ammunition and a barrel of 500 litres of petrol, to join the rebel ranks.

"NATO is not good. They don't want to help us," he said. "We only want France and Britain. They are the true friends of Libya. They attack Gaddafi's men with their planes.

"Tell Sarkozy and Cameron that we need help, that without the air strikes, Gaddafi will massacre us again. We have only a couple of missiles but not enough. We cannot fend off cannon fire with our machine guns.

"Yesterday we had to pull back very fast. It was very dangerous. But if the French planes came back, we would be in Sirte by this evening and in Tripoli in three days.


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